Sunday, March 25, 2007

Rome Returns (and Concludes): Episode 10: Better than Shakespeare

I said in what seems like both a long and a short time ago, in my review of the first episode of this second season of HBO's Rome, that I thought the show was a powerful complement to Shakespeare.

As I watched the multiple final curtains tonight, I felt this television show of television shows was perhaps better than Shakespeare. Perhaps that makes me a Philistine ... but that never stopped me before.

Antony's words to Vorenus after losing the battle of Actium were extraordinary. He had always feared defeat, Antony said, but maybe he had overestimated its effects. Does not the water still taste good and the sun still shine?

And that was just for openers.

I have praised James Purefoy's magnificent performance throughout this season, and tonight's was his best. Shakespeare never had a better death scene than when Marc Antony took his life. Vorenus praises him. Antony humanly wonders if Vorenus really means it.

This is why I think Antony was the most human, the most noble, Roman of them all.

Vorenus will die, too, though not of his own hand. How satisfying it was to see Vorenus and Pullo reunited. How hopeful we were that they both might live. How wrenching it was that Vorenus did not, even though we understood that this ending was poetic justice.

Vorenus' temper had been responsible for Niobe's death. Did he therefore deserve to die, more than Pullo, who had killed plenty of good people, too, including Cicero (who, ok, may not have been so good, but I admire the real historical writer).

Both men had suffered the death of the women they most loved. But Vorenus had been responsible for the death of Niobe and Pullo had not for Eirene.... (though, since we didn't actually see Vorenus die, and he did survive 30 days, travelling under rough conditions, maybe we have not seen the last of either Roman...)

These two all-but-fictional characters were every bit as good as Shakespeare's best, and played as well as the best Shakespearean actors, as well, by Kevin McKidd and Ray Stevenson. I'll never forget them.

As I will not this series, whose death tonight, if it is indeed the end of HBO's Rome, is the unkindest cut of all.

Atia's soft tears said it all.

For I have to say that, from tonight's vantage, at the end of the series, there is nothing I could mention that displeased me, other than that the series is not continuing. I won't even grumble about the pace of the second season, which moved twice as fast or faster than the first, which had major history-shaping events and deaths in just about every episode - sometimes as many as two or three or more, as we saw tonight.

No, I won't grumble about that, because it, too, was part of this extraordinary experiment in television, which succeeded beyond anything I ever seen on tv before - both seasons, one and two.

And if we see no more of HBO's Rome, if the old BBC I, Claudius is my next tv stop in history?

I'm not complaining, because I know I just saw history in the making - or the making of a history that will go down in history, and be watched for hundreds of years or more to come in whatever we have for screens in the future.

I'll be putting together all of my reviews of Rome into one unified essay, with an introduction and likely some additional thoughts. Watch for it soon.


6-minute podcast of this review

Good Sex on HBO's Rome, Bad FCC

Rome - The Complete First Season

Rome - Music from the HBO Series

I, Claudius 1977 BBC-PBS series

my latest novel: The Plot to Save Socrates
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